Christian Child Jailed for Blasphemy, a ‘Crime’ Punishable by Death in Pakistan
Homes Burned, Hundreds of Christians Flee Muslim Violence
Washington, D.C. (August 21, 2012) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that a Christian child could be punished by death for blasphemy. She was allegedly found carrying burned pages of the Quran in a poor outlying district of Islamabad on Thursday. Muslim mobs called for the child’s execution and burned several Christian homes, forcing hundreds of Christians to flee the area. Under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, anyone found guilty of insulting Muhammad or defiling the Quran can face life in prison or even execution.
Rimsha Misrak was arrested for blaspheming Islam on August 16 after she was allegedly spotted by neighbors with a plastic bag containing burned pages of the Quran in the Mehrabad district of Islamabad. The girl, who relatives say is 12 years old, reportedly has Down syndrome, though ICC sources in Islamabad have not been able to verify the child’s mental state. Rimsha is being held in police custody in Rawalpindi on charges of blasphemy and is expected to appear in court before the end of the month.
Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari took “serious note” of Rimsha’s arrest, saying, “Blasphemy by anyone cannot be condoned, but no one will be allowed to misuse the blasphemy law for settling personal scores,” according to a spokesman. The Interior Ministry was ordered to investigate the incident.
The day following Rimsha’s arrest, a Muslim mob, ranging from 600 – 1,000 people, set several Christian homes ablaze, assaulted Rimsha’s mother and sister, and called for the child to be burned to death as a blasphemer. Hundreds of Christians have since fled their homes in fear for their lives.
“More than 250 Christian families moved to safer places after the allegation,” Shalom Basharat, a human rights activist in Islamabad, told ICC. “The mob encompassed the Christians’ houses and demanded the ‘blasphemer’ to be hanged. The angry mob tortured Rimsha’s parents and other Christians. They blocked the main Kashmir Highway for hours and chanted slogans against Rimsha.” Basharat went on to say that homes were looted and damaged by Muslims after the Christians left.
Aidan Clay, ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, “Pakistan’s blasphemy laws continue to crush religious freedom by emboldening Muslims to commit violent acts against Christians under the protection of Pakistan’s Penal Codes. More than 46 people charged for blasphemy between 1986 and 2011 were killed by mob violence while awaiting trial or after having been acquitted. Whether a Christian is officially convicted in a Pakistani court or merely accused of blasphemy by a neighbor, the offense may still merit the death sentence in one form or another. For this reason, ICC takes little assurance in the promise by Pakistan’s president that Rimsha’s case will be investigated. Even if the charges against Rimsha are dropped, what home will she return to? She’ll be killed if she’s found on the streets of Islamabad. Justice will only be carried out when the hundreds of Muslims who went after Rimsha and attacked Christian homes in Islamabad are arrested and prosecuted. Pakistan’s Christians will never be secure until strong action is taken and the precedent is set that anti-Christian violence, under any circumstances, will not be tolerated. We call on President Asif Ali Zardari to arrest those responsible, to guarantee the safety of Rimsha and her family, and to repeal Pakistan’s oppressive blasphemy laws.”
Please call the Pakistani Embassy in your country to express your concerns:
United States: (202) 243-6500
Canada: (613) 238-7881
United Kingdom: 020 7664 9271
Want to make a difference in this story? You can sign ICC’s petition calling for the immediate release and safekeeping of Rimsha today! Lend your voice by clicking here.